European companies sell to repressive regimes


European companies have been criticised by the European Parliament and NGOs for selling online surveillance technology to authoritarian regimes in the Arab world. It has become clear that products of these companies had been used by regimes in Iran, Egypt and Libya.


French and US companies equipped Libya’s dictator Moammar Gaddafi with the necessary technology for spying on the online activities of opposition activists. A Wall Street Journal investigation in Gaddafi’s deserted compound revealed that his secret police had used information technology products of Amesys, a unit of the French company Bull SA. These export practices were criticised by the European Parliament in particular. “We need to ask for more transparency from companies before they actually sell these technologies. It’s not about sanctions and trade restrictions, it’s about making sure the new technologies are not systematically used to repress citizens,” Dutch Liberal MEP Marietje Schaake said. MEPs especially lamented the secrecy of these companies and called upon EU member states to improve the export control of surveillance technology to avoid dual use, and requested a stronger role for the EU in terms of “political support”. “There are standard lists of military technology banned for export during an embargo on a country. But this is not updated to include online weapons,” Schaake added. NGOs such as Freedom House have also pointed at the involvement of Western companies, with the sale of online spying software by British and Italian companies to governments in North Africa and the Middle East.